Saturday, November 13, 2004

A Middle-Class Hero is Something to Be

Today's Age reports:

Government action could cut the flow of millions of dollars of unionists' money into ALP coffers, sparking fears in the party of a financial calamity.

The Labor Party could face a financial crisis as the Federal Government considers banning trade unions from funding the party without their members' consent.

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has told The Age the Government could force unions to let members vote on political expenditure.

Andrews justifies the proposal thus:

Mr Andrews said unionists should know where their money was going.

He acknowledged that the question of how the ALP was funded was not a matter for the Government, but said he received regular complaints from unionists unhappy about their money being handed over to a party.

"I've had many people raise this issue and I tell them that as a general principle, people... ought to have a say in where it is going," he said.

Various union and ALP heavies are variously pissed-off or shit-scared by the idea which seems to fly in the face of the Stainless Steel Weasel's statement (on the 7.30 Report) that:

I want industrial relations change in this country not to satisfy some ideological drive of mine, but because I think it's good for the country, it delivers productivity and higher wages and more jobs and greater growth in the Australian economy. [my emphasis]

On the face of it, Andrews' proposal appears to have as little to do with delivering higher productivity as the introduction of “voluntary student unionism” (VSU) has to do with improving the efficiency, competitiveness and worldsbestpracticiness of Australia's higher education sector. I'm well out of student politics these days, so I'll leave the VSU issue to the young 'uns even though the recent Pandagate affair which exploded across the blogosphere does suggest that Brendan Nelson may have a point when it comes to using students' fees to fund student politicians.

I think it best to accept the sincerity of John Howard's statement that the government's industrial relations agenda is not ideologically driven; after all he's an honourable man who certainly didn't become a liar in the last two years. No doubt whatever regulatory regime the government imposes on trade union funding of political parties will be matched by equivalent restrictions on peak employer bodies.

Afterword: The Australian Electoral Commission now has a handy on line report generator for those who're curious about where our political parties are getting the money from.

Pompous Prelate Pontificates Preposterously

Yesterday must have been a slow opinion day at Fairfax; it's the only explanation I can think of for the appearance of that silly article by Australia's own prince of the church, George Pell.

As The Age notes, at the end of the article, it is in fact

an edited extract from his address to the annual dinner of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

This gala shindig took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 12th. No doubt Prince George's remarks over the brandy and cigars went down a little better with the assembled members of the institute than they have with Ken Parish and a few others.

While Ken makes some interesting and very salient points in his rebuttal of Pell's fact-neutral, logic-neutral arguments, it seems to me that he's been a little misled by the dislocation of the article from its original time and place. Pell made the speech to a coterie of American god-botherers in the lead up to the US presidential election. His remarks on liberal, or as George prefers secular democracy, would have obvious relevance in that context. Whether they are relevant here is another matter.

As we all know, and have known since 1999, Australia is not a democracy in any way shape or form; it's a constitutional monarchy. Whatever deficiencies there might be in Australian public life, they're not the deficiencies of a “secular democracy”, except coincidentally. And unlike a secular democracy, a constitutional monarchy has, in the persons of the monarch and royal family, a continuing demonstration of “the transcendent dignity of the human person”.

This is why I haven't been moved to a state of decadent panic by Pell's piece. True, Australia has pornography and abortion, marriage breakdowns, IVF and stem cell research – all things which, according to George define secular democracy and disfigure democracy (there's no point arguing with George's position here; by the time he gets to this point in his argument it's become completely reason-neutral and possibly sanity-neutral as well). But in 1999 we decided that for the foreseeable future we were going to stay a constitutional monarchy. So I can't see much point in worrying about the alleged evils of secular democracy until something resembling secular democracy is actually on the cards in this country.

So, if Pell's argument is irrelevant in the Australian context, is it at all relevant to the US? Well, he manages to sound one timely, if inadvertent, warning:

The recrudescence of intolerant religion is not a problem that secular democracy can resolve, but rather a problem that it tends to engender.

Now there's a petard if ever I saw one.